Tech Tips #5: Can LTE provide a future-proof solution for IoT connectivity as sunset approaches for 2G and 3G?
20 June 2023

Tech Tips #5: Can LTE provide a future-proof solution for IoT connectivity as sunset approaches for 2G and 3G?

20 June 2023

The simple answer is, yes. Before we dive into that, let’s consider the problem. 3G networks have served us well. They offer great coverage and, for many IoT applications, the performance they deliver is more than sufficient. Perhaps not for the emerging new class of IoT services, but for many that depend on remote data collection and asynchronous operations, they’ve been just fine.

Better, they’ve provided great fall back when the limits of 4G LTE coverage have been reached – in remote parts of the country, for example – or even in some built-up urban environments, where 4G (and 5G) can sometimes be difficult to access. However, many operators around the world are switching off their 3G networks, which means you need to ensure connectivity on the alternatives that are available.

Why is 3G shutting down?

It’s basically down to efficiency. 3G networks are based on an earlier (obviously) generation of technology that offers much less spectrally efficient that 4G and 5G. That boils down to the number of users (and devices) that can be supported simultaneously within the same coverage area.

There are some other aspects. For example, the spectrum currently used for 3G can be reallocated for other purposes, increasing the overall options available to operators. Additionally, maintaining and operating these legacy networks consumes cost and resources – and operators can save costs by closing them down, so they can continue to invest in newer network capabilities.

Where is 3G shutdown happening?

The mobile industry – never shy of adopting a slick phrase – is moving 3G to ‘sunset’ pretty much everywhere. Of course, it’s happening at different rates, but across Europe most major operators have announced a timetable for shutdown. Regulators are also on board, so you can expect to see more and more announcements regarding 3G sunset in the coming months and years.

This means, if you have IoT deployments in multiple countries, you need to pay attention to what’s happening internationally, not just in your home market. In time, you are going to be impacted and there’s nothing you can do about it. The sun cannot be stopped – and, even if consultations take place, it’s inevitable that all 3G networks will disappear during the next decade or so.

But what about coverage?

Will the sunset of 3G limit my connectivity options? The truth is that it shouldn’t. Operators expect to reuse the spectrum, as we noted, and to use the cost savings to drive expansion of their networks for both 5G and 4G. They plan to fill coverage gaps and to complete national footprints.

So, there shouldn’t be any disruption, as the dates of each 3G network shutdown have been clearly signalled and there’s plenty of time to prepare. Regulators are taking an active role to be sure that there are no issues. In fact, you shouldn’t need to do anything – because our SIMs and eSIMs will automatically switch to the network that’s available. In many cases, this is already happening, as 4G becomes available in areas previously covered only by 3G, and in some cases, the network is jumping straight to 5G.

What about 2G?

In some countries, such as the USA, 2G has also been retired. This means that basic messaging services, which are used extensively in IoT applications for updating SIM profiles, or for sending requests to remote devices, are also no longer available, which means that the service provider must adopt alternative messaging techniques.

Fortunately, 4G offers an alternative, with SMS over LTE. This can be implemented either via the IMS core (SMS-over-IMS) or via Signalling Gateways (SMS-over-SG). So, there’s no need to worry if 2G is unavailable – important messages for updates and commands can still be sent and received, provided your service provider offers these services.

How does this affect roaming?

4G LTE networks typically use a new voice service, called VoLTE. This requires a new kind of roaming interconnection. That’s because the default, legacy voice roaming service was based on 3G – but if 3G networks shut down, then that option will no longer be available.

As a result, operators are implementing VoLTE roaming, which is something they had previously neglected. Of course, IoT applications don’t typically require voice – so data roaming works just fine without any special modification. Of course, operators must deal with the voice issue, so you can expect more VoLTE roaming agreements – and that operators will protect voice roaming services before they close their 3G networks entirely. So, there’s nothing to worry about here – it’s just worth remembering.

Telecom26 - flexibility and futureproofing

3G sunset is an issue that has grabbed some headlines and has raised some fears – particularly for users in areas that have, for whatever reason, lacked coverage. However, we’re confident that our network partners will close the gap and deliver the expanded 4G and 5G coverage that’s needed to replace the legacy 3G. We already support our customers on 5G and have been offering widespread 4G LTE for many years. And, we offer full support for different messaging techniques, ensuring that you can use SMS for remote device communications in 4G networks.

Our SIMs and eSIMs are not tied to any one network technology but will automatically connect to the best network available – so you can be sure that you will continue to enjoy seamless IoT data connectivity, even if your application doesn’t really need higher data rates afforded by these radio technologies. Remember, there’s no extra cost for moving to a different G.

We provide flexible bundles and packages that allow your business to choose the right coverage for your needs, whether for individual users or for IoT applications – and we also support an extensive range of add-ons to tailor specific features of your connectivity. So, you can choose the best connectivity options for your needs and ensure coverage, even while 3G networks head off into the sunset. Get in touch to learn more!

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